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CoE’s Recommendation highlights the role of non-judicial remedies in the fight against SLAPPs

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The Council of Europe (CoE) adopted the Recommendation on countering the use of SLAPPs on 5 April 2024. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) welcomed the Recommendation as an important step in the protection of press freedom, guaranteeing journalists a safer environment free from legal harassment used as a means of intimidation and silencing those speaking out in the public interest, also known as SLAPPs.

The Recommendation establishes robust standards that Member States must meet in order to ensure compliance with their human rights obligations. In particular, it underlines the role of "alternative dispute resolution, mediation and press councils" by calling on Member States to ensure "the conditions for effective access to non-judicial remedies".

Maja Sever, EFJ President, said “ The adoption of the CoE Recommendation is a further step in sanctioning those who use SLAPPs or threaten to do so. The pressure of such abusive lawsuits on journalists makes their day-to-day work difficult. Self-regulation should be the norm, a long-standing tradition in Europe that allows people to make complaints without bringing in the costs and complications of the law”.

Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) recently published a study exploring the role of self-regulatory bodies in fighting against SLAPPs. Self-regulation has historically been a way to protect the independence of journalism and uphold its ethical standards. Disagreements about journalistic works can be settled without involving a judge.

According to the researchers, self-regulatory bodies can play a role in combating SLAPP cases. As referees of journalism, they can assess whether an article meets ethical standards. Such judgement could ‘shield’ against attacks, such as accusations of defamation.